Tom Payne explains how to move away from closing one eye and keeping both open to improve your accuracy
I recently wrote about how an average Shot can improve out of season. We established that Patrick, the pupil, mounts his gun reasonably well and can kill birds consistently when he closes his left eye. However, he had been experimenting with shooting with both eyes open and is “now in a strange hinterland, constantly switching between the two”.
Two very different ways of shooting
Many of you reading this are in exactly the same situation and will no doubt be getting very frustrated. That is because the two different ways of shooting — monocular versus binocular — are really very different. When you shoot with an eye dimmed, your vision becomes tunnelled and you can be very aware of where the gun is in relation to the bird. This can give you a sense of control and consequently, a sort of false confidence, but your ability to read depth perception and speed is reduced. You will also shoot a straight oncoming driven bird without being able to see it.
Why shooting with both eyes open is better
Conversely, when shooting with both eyes open, you will find it easier to read the line, speed and distance; 90 per cent of your vision stays on the bird with the other 10 per cent aware of where the gun is in relation to the bird. Your focus on the target should therefore improve. As I explained to Patrick, it feels strange losing that tunnel vision. You have to learn to trust that, if you mount the gun correctly, with good muzzle control, picking the bird up correctly, sound technique and gun fit, you will shoot where you look.
Which is your dominant eye?
Do you shoot off the same shoulder as your dominant eye? In theory, there are various tests that one can use to self-diagnose eye dominance. One involves pointing at something then closing one eye — if the object stays in the same place you are right eye dominant; if it moves you are cross eye dominant. These tests are, frankly, pretty unreliable and I would strongly advise going to a reputable shooting coach to get his opinion. Patrick is certainly capable of shooting with both eyes open. However, if he were the type of shooter who only gets the gun out of the cabinet a few times a season and was content with this, I would adopt the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rule and simply work on his style and technique with one eye closed. But I get the impression that he wants to be as good as he can be and the best way of achieving that is shooting with both eyes open.
The device that corrects eye dominance
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Get worse before you get better
After our previous lesson, I advised Patrick that every time he picked up a gun until his second lesson he should try to shoot with both eyes open. I was not surprised to hear that many times — particularly while wildfowling — he had reverted to his old ways. In such situations you want to put birds in the bag and newly learned techniques go out the window. But you have to be firm as an instructor and firm with yourself as a pupil to improve and accept that you will get worse before you get better.
For Patrick to make the transition to shooting with both eyes open, it was important that he did so with understanding and confidence. It is tempting to try to run before you can walk, but it must always be a case of going back to basics. The simulated clays that we shot were straightforward, nothing too challenging, but with a bit of a speed and angle. This allowed Patrick to work on his general gun mount and technique but also to focus on the bird.
A straightforward springing teal was a perfect starting point. It is a bird that is excellent for developing gun mount, easy to read and to finish the shot. Patrick shot it well with both eyes open, and his belief and understanding was beginning to grow. We went on to shoot a nice straight driven bird — a tricky shot for someone who shoots with an eye closed because the bird is effectively shot blind as the muzzles pass it.
With both eyes open you keep your vision on the bird and it becomes simple to shoot.
As Patrick’s confidence grew and he started to trust his eyes, he began to find the standard straight driven bird easy to shoot. He only missed a few due to checking his swing. By this, I mean looking back at the muzzles at the point of pulling the trigger, which caused him to slow his gun movement down and stop.
Keep your vision on the bird
It is vital that you keep your vision on the bird and watch it die in the air behind the barrels — or watch the clay break — thus never taking your vision off the bird until you have completed your shot. It might sound like Patrick had gone back to the baby slopes but for him to make this transition with confidence, it was necessary so he could move forward without getting lost or confused.
As we progressed, Patrick was beginning to trust himself and his eyes. He felt he had more time and better focus on what he was shooting.